Neutral Risk Doctrine

Workers’ compensation is a complex area of law with many divisions for types of disability, types of injuries, types of employees, and dozens of other subsections.  Although it is not codified in the California Labor Code, cases from the WCAB and the WCJ have also made divisions of types of risk.  There are three types of risk, according to the California courts: 1) purely personal risks; 2) mixed or industrial risks; and 3) neutral risks.  A personal risk would be one that arose out of an employee’s home life.  For example, if an employee was injured while at work because his wife came to work and shot him in the knee after a marital dispute, that would be a personal risk and would not be considered a work-related injury.  Conversely, if an employee is struck by lightning while mowing the yard at his place of employment, that very well could be a neutral risk, as it would not be a risk that is associated with the industry nor a risk associated with the employee’s home life.  Neutral risk injuries are considered work-related and are compensable through workers’ compensation.

Employers should be aware of the burden of proof placed upon them through this system.  In a case involving neutral risk, if an employer seeks to deny workers’ compensation benefits, it is the employer’s responsibility to show that the injury arose from a purely personal reason.  The injured employee must prove that an injury occurred, but does not have the burden of proving that injury is a neutral risk or industrial risk injury.  An example can be seen in Rincon v. Kyung Hee Lee.  In that case, the employee was shot and killed while working at a liquor store.  The investigation was unable to determine a motive for the murder, and there was no money taken from the cash register.  The employer contended the neutral risk doctrine should not have been invoked, as the employee’s widow failed to prove that the injury arose out of the employee’s employment.  The court rejected this argument, reiterating that as the employee’s widow had already proved injury, it was up to the employer to prove the injury was not work-related and was personal in nature if the employer wanted to deny workers’ compensation benefits.

Determining what category a work-related injury falls into can be complicated and you should have an experienced attorney helping you.  Contact us today at (714) 516-8188 if you wish to discuss workers’ compensation issues facing your business.

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